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AFS students enjoying life in Poland Ohio

November 25, 2019
J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

When a host parent backed out at the last minute, there was a scramble to find a replacement family for two AFS (American Field Service) exchange students who were on their way to the United States. That is when Alexis Smith of Poland stepped up and opened her home to Mayuko Hiraoka from Japan and Paratee Jeyor from Thailand.

"I received an email saying that AFS needed help placing some students at the last minute because a few host parents backed out and they had nowhere to go," Smith said. "I have a couple spare rooms at my house and felt like offering them to the students was the right thing to do. I have never hosted an exchange student before, so the AFS volunteers walked me through the entire process. They have been so kind and helpful from the beginning that I knew they were the right group to work with."

AFS-USA started during World War I and II as a cultural exchange service between ambulance drivers. The bold mission was to help prevent future conflicts through a cultural exchange and understanding. After WWII, AFS branched out and AFS-USA was formed to offer international education opportunities in over 45 countries and hosts the exchange program with students from 90 countries. AFS has reached 100 years of volunteerism and 70 years for the exchange program.

Article Photos

Host mom Alexis Smith enjoys some fun in the backyard with Mayuko Hiraoka from Japan and Paratee Jeyor from Thailand, who are spending part of the school year in Poland as part of the AFS exchange program.

Both girls who are now being hosted by Smith received a great welcome to Poland. Both are attending classes at Poland Seminary High School as they experience the best of American culture and life.

Mayuko, who is now a junior at PSHS. likes having everything so close.

"I like the environment," she said. "Everything is very close to home and you don't have to drive that far to go to a store. In Poland, there are many trees, big sky, beautiful stars and many other beautiful things."

At PSHS, Mayuko's favorite subject is App Design. She has also joined the girls JV basketball team, the Interact Club, and the FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). She said in Japan the schools have a long list of clubs to choose from.

In comparing school, Mayuko said there are many differences. In Japan school starts at 8 a.m. and lets out at 3 p.m.

"My school is Protestant school, so I have religious service time after second period," she said. "It's not every day, so if I don't have it, the time is rest time. Also, I think it's interesting, most Japanese don't have any religion, so my school is Protestant. Christian school is not rare in Japan, but most students are not Christian."

As for Paratee (Salwa) Jeyor from Thailand, she loves Ohio and the people who live around her in Poland. She is also attending PSHS and is a sophomore.

"The most thing that I like about Poland is the people are so nice and friendly," Paratee said. "And I love when I need suggestions then they also help me every time when I have problems.I love my high school so much and I love the Steelers football team because they're very good football team."

Paratee's favorite subjects at PSHS are algebra, choir, art, and biology. She too has joined the Interact Club and the art club, and plans to join the musical club and track club in the spring.

"The things that American high school is different from my country are most of the schools in Thailand have uniforms and my school in Thailand start at 7:30 and we finish the school around 4 p.m."

As for a favorite American food, Paratee said she really likes nachos and beef or salmon steak.

"I will remember my best time during my stay here with my friends and my host family, and I will remember about my experiences that I learned from American cultures," Paratee said. "Also I will remember my feeling about the first time with snow."

Both girls said they have learned and seen a lot during their stay and look forward to the rest of the school year at Poland. They even got to share their thoughts at Boardman middle school during a cultural presentation the girls gave. They both also said they would love to make a return trip someday and will always consider their American hosts as family.

As for Smith, the experience is just as exciting and has served as a learning experience.

"We have learned so many things about Japan and Thailand from the girls," she said. "I think the most surprising is the amount of studying the students do in both countries relative to students in the US. In both Japan and Thailand, the kids study much more after school than any US student I have ever known. They study very late into the night which doesn't leave much time for socializing or extracurricular activities. In fact, they have little free time to spend with friends and family or to even take up a hobby."

She continued, "Getting to see our country through the eyes of visitors has really made us appreciate what we have and how lucky we are in the United States. It's also been a joy to welcome the girls into our home and get to know them. They are now part of the family, and I believe we will have a life long bond with them."



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